Tactical

Last Harrier mechanics finish training as Corps shifts to F-35

The final class of Marine Corps Harrier mechanics has graduated from training, and later this year the last two Harrier pilots should complete their training, marking the “end of an era” as the service transitions to the F-35 Lightning II.

The bookend of the AV-8B Harrier II’s Marine service mirrors the replacement of the venerable F/A-18 Hornet, both of which will be replaced by the F-35.

The Harrier mechanics completed their training Monday, and those mechanics will continue to repair and maintain the F-402 engine as the Harrier completes its service in 2027.

“Teaching this class is bittersweet, I am proud to pass on knowledge to the last generation of students,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Fife, a fixed-wing mechanic and instructor at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. “On the other side, this is the end of an era for the Marine Corps.”

The class of five Marine aviation mechanics will be assigned to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“It’s mind-boggling to me, knowing that I’m going to the fleet soon and there is nobody else taking this class after me,” said Pfc. Landyn Powers, one of the mechanic students.

The Harrier and Hornet transition to the F-35 is expected to conclude by the end of fiscal year 2030, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

According to the 2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, Harrier pilot training will end in 2024. Hornet pilots will continue to be trained until 2027 under Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323.

The Corps deactivated Marine Attack Training Squadron 203, a Harrier training unit, in October 2021.

The Harrier has been in service with the Marine Corps since 1985. It is a single-engine subsonic, ground-attack aircraft capable of vertical landing and takeoff. It saw extensive use in the Persian Gulf War and later in Global War on Terror missions.

The F-35B, a short-takeoff-and-vertical landing aircraft, began replacing the Harrier in 2016. The Corps also flies the F-35C variant, which is a long-range jet.

In September 2023, the Corps shut down Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

In 2022, the Marines maintained four active operational Harrier squadrons with 14 aircraft each, according to the aviation plan. But East Coast squadrons transitioned to the F-35 in late mid-2022 while the West Coast squadrons are scheduled to maintain operations until fiscal year 2027.

The Hornet is an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft used primarily for strike operations and close air support. The Marine Corps uses the F/A-18 A-D variants. The aircraft entered Marine Corps service in 1983, replacing the F-4 Phantom, A-7 Corsair and A-6 Intruder.

The A and C variants are single-seat aircraft, while the B, and D variants are two seaters. It also was used extensively in the Persian Gulf War and subsequent post-9/11 operations.

In recent years, the Hornet has provided more than half of the Marine Corps’ tactical air capability.

It’s considered the Corps’ primary bridging platform as the service transitions to the F-35, according to the aviation plan.

As of 2022, there were six active Hornet squadrons and one reserve squadron. The majority of those were assigned to the Marine Aircraft Group-31 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

Other squadrons are assigned to MCAS Miramar and MAG-41 at Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas.

Five of the six active squadrons consist of seven F/A-18Cs and five F/A-18Ds.

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